OTTAWA — Federal officials say they'll help to avoid letting unused Moderna doses expire on Manitoba reserves, and ensure Métis people are included in the campaign to inoculate the most remote corners of the province from COVID-19.
The First Nations Pandemic Co-ordination Response Team is overseeing a campaign to administer 100,000 vaccine doses by June 30 in all 63 reserves, as well as 21 remote communities that sit adjacent to First Nations.
The idea is to inoculate communities that have the worst access to medical care and the highest risk of a disastrous COVID-19 outbreak, particularly those facing the risk of a flood or wildfire evacuation that would likely spread the novel coronavirus.
Some of the first bands to get large shipments have started offering door prizes to coax people to roll up their sleeves before the doses expire. Chiefs say they’re dealing with issues such as vaccine hesitancy, a lack of firsthand exposure to how bad COVID-19 can get, and logistical challenges.
"You won’t find me giving any particular positions on door prizes," said Marc Miller, minister overseeing Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).
"There are many incentives, and people are smart to get vaccines into arms; people are using some really original methods."
ISC officials said Wednesday they will help move around doses if a community is struggling to get people to sign up before they expire. But they noted uptake could dramatically rise a few days after vaccines are made available.
"All of the partners are working together to ensure that doses can be reallocated, where they could be utilized, and then a community could always have future doses if they require them," said Valerie Gideon, a senior ISC official.
She said broadcasting information on radio shows and Facebook have helped increase uptake elsewhere, including highlighting the importance of protecting children from infection.
ISC medical director Dr. Tom Wong added providing child care and transportation or home visits have helped parents get shots.
Meanwhile, there appear to be some hiccups in including Métis people in the vaccine rollout.
The 100,000-dose campaign is meant to include remote communities that neighbour Manitoba reserves, such as Hollow Water, which sits near three small municipalities on the east shore of Lake Winnipeg.
Residents of the town of Manigotagan who work on the Hollow Water reserve say they were present at a meeting where band officials said they would not welcome people onto the reserve for shots, due to an unspecified liability issue.
The chief’s office did not respond to a voicemail Wednesday. In any case, the province said Wednesday it will roll out a separate clinic for those three remote communities, starting April 20.
Manigotagan deputy mayor Helen Thomas said she’s relieved elderly locals will get their shots without having to travel to Selkirk. But the Métis woman is disheartened by the confusion and not allowing people onto the reserve.
"It's hurtful that the First Nations wouldn't help the surrounding communities, because a lot of the families are intertwined; the cousins and aunts and uncles in these neighbouring communities are all related," she said.
"Why can’t (the province) let the Métis government look after their own communities?"
The Manitoba Metis Federation said the province is creating confusion by not having the MMF at the central planning table. The province has said instead invoiced the MMF to side committees on vaccine logistics, but the MMF are demanding parity with First Nations.
In any case, federal officials said Wednesday they have asked for statistics to make sure the Métis aren’t overlooked.
"We are working on being able to obtain some more information about access to the vaccine for Manitoba Metis Federation members," Gideon said.
"We are mapping those community sites as well, to look at where there might be access gaps, and able to build on our existing partnerships."
Miller said Ottawa will continue to advocate that provinces include all Indigenous people as a priority for vaccination, no matter where they live.